But there is also something else happening. A growing number of Americans (nearly a third, according to one Gallop poll) describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Books with titles like “Christianity After Religion,” “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” and “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” are gathering a growing audience. And the Emerging Church movement, seeking to live, as Harvey Cox puts it, “in a new Age of Faith rather than the old Age of Belief,” is inspiring many young people (and not a few of us old folks!) with fresh winds of the Spirit. It feels like once again, as in the old Buffy Ste. Marie song, “God is alive, magic is afoot.” And more and more people want to be a part of it.
SOURCE: An Emergent Witness for Friends? – QuakerQuaker.
It is nice to see that my two favorite flavors of following Jesus blend together with the quote above. Quakers are more about making sure people see the light within them than they are about increased membership. The Emergent movement has a similar view. It is all about “being” a follower of Jesus than it is about spouting certain beliefs or creeds. I must say that I am more inclined daily to include myself in the “spiritual but not religious” category. It is more about lifestyle than it is about believing the “right” things.
For the most part mainline churches today are about what you are supposed to believe instead of how you are supposed to live. Each has their own creeds that you must sign into in order to belong with them. If you cross that creed/belief line you are in jeopardy of losing your membership. Many people particularly the young just don’t align with that approach to spirituality. Instead of what to believe they want to know how they can help. Instead of getting a free ticket to heaven they want to know how to pay their debt to society.
Older generations, such as my own, have been very comfortable being told what to do. In that regard I want to bring in yet another post from a Quaker friend:
Then there are those who want an authority to tell them what to do, think, feel. That authority could be a priest, it could be a dogma, it could be a ritual, it could be a tradition. Whatever it is, it provides a kind of security that a whole lot of people find sorely lacking in their lives. If they can find it in religion, they grab it and don’t let go. Security is the second of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I have no argument with those who find it in this way. My heart goes out to them. I’m genuinely glad for them….
SOURCE: Growth and the Society of Friends | Letters from the Street.
As in the previous post here, doing the “other gospel” of being rather than believing is just too hard for many. The something-for-nothing emphasis doesn’t require the day-to-day energy of the “being” version.
I find it amazing that so many young people today have already discovered what it took me year to find. They realize that to earn their place in humanity requires effort on their part. They see the “being” of the Emergent church as a driving part of their lives. Get-out-of-jail free cards are just not enough for them.
Source: On a Short Leash – QuakerQuaker.
Had occasion to recall a dog that I used to walk. Normally, she was well-behaved and a joy to take to the park. One day, however, this good dog showed a quite different side to her regular disposition. She pulled and pulled and would not stop when I told her to heel. After several attempts at same, I was forced to yank her leash and propel her anxiousness backwards.
Apparently, a dog can forget about the person at the other end of the leash.
Now, what about dog spelled backwards? Do we sometimes forget about God walking along with us in this life? Do we still, as early Quakers cautioned, sometimes race ahead of God’s Spirit? And, do we force God to get rough with us – even to propel us backwards, so we remember what it is to walk the right way through life?
Thanks Clem Gerdlemann for this post on QuakerQuaker. It got me seriously thinking about being on a leash with God on the other end. While I am a strong believer in God having given us free will I also believe that He gives us personal revelations to help guide us through life. Jerking our chain to bring us back to reality is part of those revelations.
So, I kind of believe, along with Clem that God has us on a leash. I would only differ in the length of the leash. I know when I walk my sixty pound basset hound I for the most part let her have the full fifteen feet of the retractable leash. She can go pretty much wherever she wants. Since bassets “hear and see” with their nose what she smells determines where she goes. Sometimes it is necessary to let her know who is in command, but given her sixty pounds that takes a good effort on my part 🙂
Like bassets we humans don’t often use all our senses when we travel through life. We often get hung up on this or that and it is most often a self-focused this or that. When we forget that Jesus’ command was to love God and to love each other we certainly deserve a jerk backwards. But, I think God’s leash is more than long enough for us to hang ourselves. He is just not in the business of “making” us do what He wants.
The Quaker belief of the “light of God” in all of us is the leash to me. You might call it a virtual leach if you want. God ingrains in each of us his messages of life but he leaves it up to us to grow that light into a beacon that shows others the way to Him.
I am a regular reader of a Quaker blog called Quaker Quaker. On a recent posting by Mac Lemann I learned a little about Mary Dyer. Here are some of his words from that post:
I had recently re-learned, at Pendle Hill from Marcelle Martin, the story of Mary Dyer and the other Quaker martyrs hung on Boston Common. Mary was a follower of Anne Hutchinson (see the Antinomian Controversy) who preached that every Christian believer could read, interpret, and preach the word of God and that the Grace of God is freely given. Mary was later convinced by George Fox in England of the Truth and power of Friends. Because of her conviction that God’s law is love and tolerance and despite the fact that the Massachusetts government, essentially the Puritan church, had passed a law banning Quakers from their colony, she returned to Massachusetts again and again in defiance of the worldly law and was martyred for her beliefs.
After gazing at the statue for a few minutes I turned and strode to the center of Boston common where Mary was hung and buried in an unmarked grave. I stomped my foot and jumped up into the cool air and sunny sky. I felt myself slam down onto the land forbidden to Quakers in the 17th century and I thought, “Goddamn it! I am a Quaker on Boston Common!”
When we think of Christian martyrs we most often think of the Inquisition or as I do the post-Constantine era of Christianity. We don’t often relate it to what later became the USA. Most of us remember hearing stories of the Salem witchcraft trials but not many know about the hangings on the Boston Common for heresy. We don’t often remember that even though we have a separation of Church and State in our constitution that wasn’t so of the thirteen colonies that initially formed our country. Many including Massachusetts, Road Island, and Pennsylvania were made up of primarily the same religious sect and not very tolerant of other beliefs.
Can you imagine one Christian colony putting to death a citizen because they believed that all Christians can have opinions of biblical text or that God will eventually grant salvation to everyone? Thank heavens for those like Thomas Jefferson who had a more tolerant view of religious sects.
For a little more information here is what Wikipedia says about the Boston Martyrs:
The Boston martyrs is the name given in Quaker tradition to the three English members of the Society of Friends, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson and Mary Dyer, and to the Friend William Leddra of Barbados, who were condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1659, 1660 and 1661. Several other Friends lay under sentence of death at Boston in the same period, but had their punishments commuted to that of being whipped out of the colony from town to town.
“The hanging of Mary Dyer on the Boston gallows in 1660 marked the beginning of the end of the Puritan theocracy and New England independence from English rule. In 1661 King Charles II explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism. In 1684 England revoked the Massachusetts charter, sent over a royal governor to enforce English laws in 1686, and in 1689 passed a broad Toleration act.”
Several years ago I came across a small book entitled Quaker Spirituality – Selected Writings. I’m still not sure what made me pause on the title but I am glad I did. Inside that book was an essay by Thomas R. Kelly (1893-1941) talked about the “Eternal Presence”. I didn’t know it then but this essay put me on the path to learning much more about Quakers. It gave me the most complete understanding of who God was that I have ever had in my life up to that point.
Here are some of the words from that essay. I am just going to give you bits an pieces but enough to get its message across:
The Quaker discovery and message has always been that God still lives and moves, works and guides, in vivid immediacy, within the hearts of men. For revelation is not static and complete, like a book, but dynamic and enlarging, as springing from life and Soul of all things. This light and Life is in all men, ready to sweep us into its floods, illumine us with its blinding, or with its gentle guiding radiance, send us tendered but strong into the world of need and pain and blindness. Surrender of self to that indwelling Life is entrance upon an astounding, and almost miraculous Life…..
We are men of double personalities. We have slumbering demons within us. We all have also a dimly-formed Christ within us. We’ve been too ready to say that the demonic man within us is the natural and real man, and that the Christ-man within us is unnatural and the unreal self but nothing could be further from the truth….
It is an amazing discovery, at first, to find that the creative Power and Life is at work in the world. God is no longer the object of belief; he is a Reality, who has continued, within each of us, his real presence in the world.
One of the most basic tenets of Quakerism is the “light of God is within each and every one of us”. It is up to us to show this light to the world of need, pain, and blindness.It is up to us to show God within us. It is an amazing discovery to understand that “WE” contain the real presence of God in this world. God is not some mythical bearded guy up there that decides who will go to heaven or who to punish with hell. God is real; he is within each and every one of us.
This revelation changed everything in my attitudes. No longer did I consider myself a miserable sinner who can do no good. I know I now have a small piece of the presence of God in this world. I am to do what he expects me to do. I am not a worthless piece of snot that I taught growing up. I am instead the light of God in this world. When you accept that fact everything changes. You are no longer living for yourself but now are living to show God’s love through your deeds and actions.
When I read the above words it was a sobering moment for me. It made me look upon the current religious establishment with a different view. It was indeed a very inspiring little book for me.
We in the U.S. know that one of the primary foundations of our democracy is freedom of speech. That is being able to say something different from our leaders and not suffer serious consequences. In my opinion this is what has allowed our country to remain so strong over the centuries. Many times criticisms lead to change and though we might not realize it at that time that is good for us. It makes us better; it makes us stronger. Without freedom of speech I doubt our country we even exist today.
Anyone who has studied church history at all knows that it is not a democracy but instead has for most of its history a very vertical oriented top-heavy organization. When the leader of the church, or even most of his immediate underlings said something everyone was expected to quickly get in line with his words. Dissension is just not allowed. Anyone who even hinted of a disagreement were quickly handled. In the past anyone proclaimed a heretic, which basically meant they didn’t agree with their leaders in some aspect, had all of their writings burned so they would not pollute the church. And many followed their books into the flames.
Thank heaven at least in the last few centuries heretics are not so severely handled but that does not mean that they are not severely dealt with. Many think only of the Catholic church when they think of the power structures. No Catholic, especially the cardinals and bishops would go against anything that the Pope proclaims. But this situation also occurs amongst the Protestant denominations as well.
If you even hint that you don’t agree with all the various creeds and statements given by your denomination’s leadership you will also be chastised or even kicked out. I know personally of a Lutheran minister who was brought back from an overseas mission and stripped of his sermon rights because he dared to join in prayer with those in other Christian groups. It seems that most denominations and that includes the Catholic church (although they don’t like being called a denomination) just won’t accept any straying from the stated doctrine of their group. They all claim that it would stain their institutional purity. About the only denomination that I am aware of that doesn’t do this are the Quakers. But since they are adamantly opposed to creeds in general that seems a natural to them.
This lack of accepting fellowship with other Christians is one of the most serious problems causing the generally sharp decline in the institutional church. Their arrogance in thinking that they are pure and others are not is driving away membership especially among the younger generations. The emergent church movement, although not yet well-defined , generally prefer a very horizontal structure if they have a structure at all. Creeds and such are just not important to most of them.
I will be posting more about the emergent movement in the coming weeks. There are several books that are well worth the read if you are interested. I will be getting into that in later posts.
As I have said many times on this blog I am perfectly attuned to the Quaker concept of the “light of God in each of us”. Everyone, including the most evil in history, has a glimmer of God in them. Some have covered it with a very dark and dreadful blanket but it is there none the less. Even those who absolutely deny the existence of God have it.
I got to thinking the other day about how some people seem to think that they are fully attuned to God; they seem to think that it is therefore their duty to correct everyone who disagrees with anything they say. Unfortunately I had a constant visitor to this blog with such a mindset. He was determined to “set me straight” on just about anything I blogged about. He came here in sheep’s clothing asking that I help him in his spiritual journey, but his true intent was to show me how wrong I was in my walk with God. He was convinced that only the original version of the King James bible was true to the facts; all the rest were forgeries to one degree or another. I finally had to disallow this viewer to make any additional comments and he is the reason that I now have to approve each post as it comes in.
When the thoughts of the Quaker light and my stalker viewer came together a new insight was given me. With the glimmer of God in each of us we also have a glimmer of what God really is. Some of us seem to think that their light is a roaring inferno and therefore they know more about the heart of God than anyone else.